Two friends in the group I was in, pre-show, at the Irish Rover on Broadway remarked separately that having seen the Pogues, it would be possible to “retire” from live shows. With streams of whiskey already flowing (o’Squish wound up driving, so didn’t participate) and the band’s catalog blasting non-stop on the juke box, one guy showed us his sleeve-length Shane MacGowan tattoo. Reports from other cities indicated the boys were in form, and Shane mostly upright. Excitement was high, and we piled into a cab to find out, I guess, whether Rock and Roll can ever die.
Well, not if Rachel Nagy has anything to say about it. “Enjoy the FUCK out the Pogues, she yelled as the Detroit Cobras left the stage after a strong set under the difficult circumstance of a full house awaiting breathlessly its first brush with Poguetry.
The lights went down, and out came the musicians, some now bald, many re-habbed, a cancer survivor. And shuffling behind them, the shambolic bard, shapeless, toothless in a handmade sweater. The general tone of commentary on Shane’s later career, with his sweet rasping whiskey voice now reduced by 5 million cigarettes to mainly rasp, has been: He could’ve been someone. Well, so could anyone! And “Streams of Whiskey”, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” and “Broad Majestic Shannon”, the traditional show-starting triad, proved that there is nothing wrong with the Pogues that 2,000 stomping, jumping fist-pumping 18-54 year-olds can’t cure.
I had predicted here that tears would flow as “Thousands” was played, but it took less time than that. As the band launched into the blistering main body of “Young Ned of the Hill”, a hail of those glow stick thingies, beer cups and the glittering, trailing plumes of the blessed beverage they had held filled the air, and there were tears on my cheeks. At that moment I was as happy as I’ve been in years, and I’ll remember it all my life.
I can’t recall a single disappointment with the show as it stood. Oh sure, ‘Fairytale of New York”, their iconic, junkie Xmas song was left out, not for lack of snow (the Pogues very resourcefully bring their own), But for a Kirsty MacColl or Emma Finer to sing it. The band was out of its mind, James Fearnley still jumping and diving, accordion in hand. Shane was in strong voice and chatty. Shane’s Ray-Bans came off briefly during “Old Main Drag” where the singer complains that they “messed up my good looks”- priceless!
I got to sing along to “Dirty Old Town” and “Thousands Are Sailing”, and did in fact “raise a glass to JFK”, and 8 musicians besides. I was unprepared for the barely contained chaos that was “Fiesta”, in which one of humankind’s nobler inventions, the beer tray, gave its life on Spider Stacy’s head. I tried to get a picture of that, but by that time, the place where I was, the first riser above the mosh pit, had turned into a second mosh pit itself. Don’t mourn the beer tray. Reflect instead, on what could possibly get gray-hairs with high blood pressure and people who weren’t even born yet when the song was first played bouncing sweatily, beerily, shoulder to shoulder. Can we apply that to health care reform?
I can now slide contentedly into middle age, though if the lads want to come back next year, I can easily put on my Docs and step back out. I never saw The Clash or the Ramones, and it’s too late now ( Joe Strummer joined the Pogues after strung-out Shane was finally kicked out, and “Straight to Hell” plays before every show). But Rock and Roll has never been about what you didn’t do, but what you did. Whiskey, heroin, peace and love, any which way the wind may be blowing. Mosh on, 18 year olds, you’ll be glad you did.